Going Backstage: Musicals, Plays, and Novels about Theater (DRA4282.01)

Maya Cantu

“What is it about the wings of the theater that makes them seem even more fascinating than the stage?” queries film historian Rick Altman. Blending glitter and grit, voyeurism and critique, backstage narratives have proven among the most popular and enduring of genres for over a century, in works ranging from Kiss Me, Kate, Funny Girl, and The Producers to contemporary works like “Smash” and “Fosse/Verdon.” This course will offer a multidisciplinary exploration of twentieth- and twenty-first American backstage narratives across media, with a particular focus upon backstage film musicals, stage plays, and a small selection of novels. Among the latter works, we will read Bradford Ropes’s 42nd Street (1932): a hard-boiled and defiantly queer theater novel long overshadowed by its film and stage adaptations. In encountering a multitude of backstage narratives, students will consider questions about stage labor and commerce (including the pervasive myth of “The Show Must Go On”); anti-theatrical prejudice and censorship; gender and sexuality; and the relationship between backstage narrative and metatheater. Looking at works by Oscar Micheaux, David Henry Hwang and others, we will also explore how backstage narratives have enabled artists of color to critique racial inequities in the theater industry and envision new roles in and beyond the “Great White Way.” Throughout the course, we will look at how backstage narratives transform across media, while consistently inviting insights about the stage from the perspective of the wings.


Learning Outcomes:
Students will:

o Analyze the formal conventions of backstage narratives, and the transformation of these conventions across multiple genres and media.

o Compare and contrast the distinctive qualities, dynamics and themes of backstage film musicals, stage plays, and novels.

o Understand how twentieth-century backstage narratives both mirrored and shaped their social and cultural contexts, as well as reflected industrial practices in American theater and performance history. 

o Strengthen research, writing, critical thinking, and oral communication skills through a mix of close readings, discussions, essay assignments, and projects.


Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: Students will be selected based upon an analytical writing sample. Please email mayacantu@bennington.edu by 5pm on Friday, May 6.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
M 1:40PM - 5:20PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 15
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: Fully In-Person , All courses , Drama , Literature
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